Ian Holloway’s Biggest Task

Pondering the future......

Well, that was the season that was.

The season where Blackpool almost achieved the impossible, when they won many friends and played some unforgettable football. As the season ended an era was brought to a close and Blackpool will enter the new season with a new first choice eleven and new expectations.

The end of each season sees the gradual whittling away of a squad; players being released and sold on. Blackpool have already said goodbye to a swathe of players and added to this, it is likely Charlie Adam will leave along with others.

Taking stock

Before going in to the details about where Blackpool go from here, it’s worth establishing who is considered a part of the squad for the purposes of this article. Players such as Ashley Eastham, Tom Barkhuizen, Louis Almond, Chris Kettings, Adam Dodd and Liam Thomsett should be considered as potential loanees unless any have made significant strides in their development and impress in pre-season. Also factored in here is the ‘worst case scenario’ that DJ Campbell leaves as well as both Stephen Crainey and Matthew Gilks rejecting their contract offers.  The current squad is detailed below.

This is the assumed Blackpool squad - June 2011

In total, that gives Blackpool a ‘skeleton’ squad of fourteen players and clearly this needs to be built upon. If they were to play a game right now, how would Blackpool shape up?

Shaping up

Obvious gaps to fill

As you can see Blackpool have obvious gaps that will require filling. This also places little consideration on striking a balance in midfield between craft and steel as well as assuming that Ludovic Sylvestre will still be around for week one of the new season.

There are considerable doubts about his future and that of Elliot Grandin. However, Sylvestre has been featured here for two reasons. Firstly, he has the passing ability and vision of Charlie Adam even if he is lacking in Adam’s drive, aggression and direct goal threat. Secondly, because back in March Ian Holloway singled him out as a player he considered to be integral to Blackpool’s future. However, given that Blackpool are playing Championship football this season and he struggled to grasp the language, then it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him depart.

Building the foundations

When Ian Holloway arrived at Blackpool he talked about having a squad of twenty-four players made up of different ages bracketed in to four broad categories. Apprentices, young, senior and experienced professionals*. You can see the assumed quotas for each age profile below which gives a measure against the vacancies in each bracket.

Apprentice (18-21), Young (21-25), Senior (25-30), Experienced (30+)

During his time in charge of Blackpool this may have flexed from time to time but it’s safe to assume that he will be building his squad around similar principles as well as ensuring that he has at least two players to cover each position on the field. You can see below the current squad composition compared against positional vacancies.

Blackpool need at least ten players, you can see above where the positions need filling.

What does this mean for Blackpool’s recruitment this summer? Given they’ve got a squad of approximately fourteen players then they’re about ten short of where Holloway will want to be and on the chart above you can see what positions need to be recruited.

Filling station

What types of players may be expected to arrive on the scene at Bloomfield Road given the situation outlined above?

Obviously a goalkeeper and a left back are priorities. Given Holloway’s system then the keeper needs to be comfortable with the ball at his feet and the left back needs to be comfortable pushing high up the pitch. In the centre of defence an experienced defender might be targeted and he may be left footed which might ensure a switch for Ian Evatt away from his left centre back role. A left footed centre back would serve two purposes, give better balance to the back line and facilitate a smoother recycling of the ball across the back line. Another factor that Holloway might seek in this new centre back is pace in order to give him more comfort in playing a high line.

Further up the pitch the requirements become more widespread and it’s fair to say that a mixed bag will be arriving at the seaside, however, high-profile direct replacements for Charlie Adam and DJ Campbell may well dictate how the rest of the recruitment pans out.

Another thing to consider is internal shuffles along the lines of when Holloway took over and he converted David Vaughan from left wing/back to central midfielder. A possible move along these lines would be Neal Eardley in to central midfield. He has the technical skills and a good passing range to operate in that position. He was tried out in central midfield in the last pre-season, at the time it was assumed that was to build up positional awareness and stamina, however, Holloway deployed him in that role against Wigan for the final moments of that game. Should this be the case then a right back may well be recruited to cover that shuffle.

This is not an exhaustive analysis but serves to show the process that will be being pursued.

Tactical development

Finally, what should be expected from Blackpool when they take to playing again? It’s fair to say that their formation will start the same. However, arguably Blackpool start this season with more formation options than a year ago. Holloway will likely start with either his 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1/4-2-1-3 and he may also bring a 3-5-2 in to play more often. Perhaps when he feels that a team has countered his 4-2-3-1 and isolated the attacking players and when he needs added lateral midfield width to break from deeper areas especially when the opposition are fielding one man up front.

Strategy wise it is safe to assume that Holloway will keep attacking from the first minute and perhaps he’ll cast off his attempts to stifle a game as that proved to be fatal at times last season. Tactically he may also ask his team to play the same, however, ‘build up play’ may be more around short passing in the deep and less about stretching the play due to the loss of Adam’s passing abilities.

Defensively he may well persist with the high line and offside trap, however, knowing when to use it has been an issue in the past and not having the players with the right positioning, anticipation and pace to play in such a way does temper the effectiveness of the tactic. It might be that Holloway works with the defensive unit to build more lines of cover in so that they sit a little bit deeper and he may look at his defensive phase and decide to work on a different scale. At times Blackpool were working to 5 or 6 men behind the ball in the defensive phase last year, whilst he might ask them to work more towards 7, 8 or 9 for added security.

The biggest tactical lessons that Ian Holloway may well have learnt from the Premier League is to understand how he wants his team to shape up in the attack to defence transition of the game. Any team who purposely broke up a Blackpool attack and attacked directly themselves gained an advantage as did teams who cleared wildly, only to see that Blackpool had pushed to high up and lost position. Perhaps Holloway may well attack in fewer numbers. Or perhaps, he will ensure that his players are more well-drilled in recovering their shape.

Summer break

The task ahead of Ian Holloway and Blackpool is quite significant and this should help to put that task in to perspective. It’s likely that he will have identified his key targets by now, however, identifying those targets and bringing them in are two very different strands. The key to the whole of this process is for the recruitment to happen swiftly and smoothly giving Holloway maximum time with his new squad to ensure a strong start to the new season.

This is the final post of this season and it will act as a marker for the new season when the blog returns in late July. Thank you for your support and for reading the blog over the course of the season. Thanks also to everyone who has helped me with aspects of the blog and thanks to anyone who has spread the message of the blog via forums, websites, social media and word of mouth.

*This is from memory and no written record is available to back this up.

[twitter-follow screen_name=’Tanger_Dreaming’]

Charlie Adam – An Honest Appraisal

Charlie Adam will move on from Blackpool this summer and he will begin the new season at a new club. His time at Blackpool was a tremendous success for him and the club and he will be remembered as one of the finest players to grace the pitch at Bloomfield Road.

This article will openly and honestly assess his ability and hopefully give fans of his prospective new club an idea of the player away from limited highlights that may have been packaged up by your regular media outlets.

Information:

Charlie Adam - Blackpool's Number 26

Full name: Charles Graham Adam

Date of birth: 10th December 1985

Height: 6 ft 1 in (1.85 m)

Place of birth: Dundee, Scotland

Current club: Blackpool Football Club

Previous clubs: Rangers, Ross County (loan), St Mirren (loan)

 

Made to measure

To start here’s a quick look at his key statistics from the season.

Those may be the stats that give a feel for what Charlie Adam is all about, however, that is within the context of Blackpool’s team structure and the season they had and it is important to keep them in that context. What cannot be detailed here is where this places Adam in the context of his Premier League peers as that data isn’t readily available for the purposes of this article.

However, here are some observations that will add depth to the understanding of the player and what he will bring to his new club.

Passing

He is equally adept at finding both corners of the pitch with long penetrating passes either lofted or drilled low and flat, although the pass from left to right is his most natural play. He can execute them through a normal passing technique or via a higher risk volley pass which can be very potent when executed accurately. His first time passing (without looking up) can be sublime and well disguised, however, these carry a high tariff and don’t always work. If intercepted early enough then he can compromise his own team’s shape in the defensive phase. His passing over a short range is excellent and very reliable. His passing is equally excellent regardless of pitch location, edge of the box passing can be as good as passing from the deep. Near the edge of the box he will attempt a diagonal ball cut between and behind defenders getting them to turn.

He does however, need time on the ball in order to pick his pass and if a team puts him under pressure, he can be caught in possession by an astute opponent. If his awareness allows him to sense danger he will surge forward to create space to release the pass. However, his accuracy can suffer in these situations as his focus tends to be disturbed.

Below you can see how his pass completion fluctuated throughout the season from a high of 81% to a low of 45%.

Note: Where the line is thicker it means the number of successful passes was higher.

Pace

He has pace, a common misconception is that he isn’t quick. He’s certainly not a hundred metre runner, however, his pace over the first few metres is enough to take him away from most opponents especially given his upper body strength and ability to fend off tacklers (he has a take on success rate of 49%). However, this pace cannot be sustained over distance and will look to a drag of the ball or a nutmeg to beat his man rather than engage in a foot race.

Strength & Stamina

Physically he looks strongly built, if anything he may be carrying too much body fat which would improve given the right circumstances as Blackpool’s approach to fitness conditioning isn’t comparable to an established Premier League team. However, his stamina doesn’t appear to be an issue. He is strong in head to heads, tough in the tackle, a decent leap is met with a good sense of timing and a strong neck gives him above average aerial power which he utilises more in his own box rather than the attacking one, more due to his positioning and role within the Blackpool team. He doesn’t appear to be overly susceptible to injury, tends to pick up very occasional knocks as opposed to serious injuries either by overuse or accident.

Shooting & set pieces

He is excellent at delivering set pieces. Wide free kicks are better delivered from wide on the right hand side and generally hits them just above head height swinging inwards. His free kick delivery from wide left have a tendency to be hit low towards feet and behind the defensive line, swinging away from goal. He generally takes the majority of his corners from the right side, in-swinging, although has a tendency to over hit the ball. His striking of the corner can be inconsistent with a scuffed low and running corner being the key fault. His goal against West Ham was scored in this fashion, but it wasn’t deliberate as his celebration would confirm.

His direct free kicks are especially dangerous, he is able to force a powerful strike hard and low or hard and at wall height or float and curl in to the corners. He is at his most dangerous when the kick is right of centre with the strike curling to the top right corner. His penalties used to show a tendency to be struck low to the right corner, however, recently his penalties have shown his variation, with occasional strikes to the left making him hard to read. His placement shows reliability and will often strike them with power to evade the ‘keepers dive.

Mentality

He is a team player and selfless with it, he has filled in when the team are short of cover and has played centre forward, centre back and left back in games albeit for short periods. He leads his team by example, interacts with the crowd as well as appearing to be very vocal towards his team mates. He appears equally spirited between his own team and the opposition and plays hard, but fair. He appears to take time to recover from mistakes and possibly has highly critical self talk that might impinge on him delivering over a course of a match when a mistake has occurred. For example, an early misplaced pass or the own goal at home to Blackburn or being caught in possession prior to Birmingham’s second goal at St Andrews.

His disciplinary record is marked by his persistent collecting of yellow cards (11 this season), however, it is rare that he loses his temper, even though he was sent off on his Blackpool for a stamp on an opponent. He does appear to have moments of passion where his focus is lost and can lead him in to the occasional rash challenge.

Technical ability

He has good close control, the ball rarely escapes him. He is strong at taking the ball down with the chest and will shield the ball well. He is however, very left footed, passing and shooting accuracy suffer when he uses his right foot. An opponent who can make him turn on to his right side will enjoy an advantage.

Positional play

Within Blackpool’s 4-2-3-1 formation, he forms a part of the deeper two midfielders, but is more progressive than his partner and acts as a link from holding midfielder to the man at the tip of the midfield triangle. When Blackpool play their flatter 4-3-3 he will normally gravitate towards the centre left of the midfield three.

He can set up plays from the middle and left of the pitch (1 & 2), but is given license to support the attack in the final third (4) and can easily play in that more advanced role. He tracks back well to close out space in the defence and will support his left back when under attack, covering runs in behind. He can hold the deeper position (3), although it tends to be against his natural attacking instinct. He made some of his early appearances for Rangers wide left (5), although his lack of pace means he wouldn’t necessarily penetrate the opposition back line, but his delivery from out wide could be utilised more often as well as his link up passing to bring others in to the game.

As revealed in the programme notes for the game at home against Manchester United it is interesting to note that he believes his best position to be at centre half (6) and this hints at the possibility of him covering as a sweeper in some schemes. He is adept at dropping deep between the centre backs when then spread to cover full back raiding forward. From this position he will comfortably hit long diagonal passes (left to right is the most common) or revert to short passes.

Should he be employed in a 4-4-2 then he can be exposed against the opposition central midfield pair, should they work hard to pressurise him and to cut off the link from his midfield partner. It would be unwise to utilise him in this formation given his propensity for needing more time on the ball. A midfield three gives him support and passing options as well as cover for when he breaks forward.

Awareness and vision

He has an excellent understanding of the pitch in front of him and where the space is in front of him in which to pass the ball. He can often see the plays that his Blackpool team mates cannot which can lead to misplaced passes. Should he be surrounded with players of a greater understanding, anticipation and pace his passes may link up more often. However, his vision tends to be limited and doesn’t possess a good awareness of a full 360 degrees which often means he is unaware of what is going on behind him, which not only reduces his passing options, but leaves him susceptible to a timely intervention by an opponent from behind.

Conclusion

Adam is a good central midfielder, with excellent passing range, good technical ability but at times tries to repeat the extravagant pass a little too often. He has great value to his set piece delivery and is tough and good spirited. Physically strong, but requires a better base fitness which might improve his speed and stamina. His vision needs improvement as do his reactions to working in tighter spaces. What is possible is that his drive, desire, ambition and determination to learn and develop suggests that he will improve given the right conditions.

[twitter-follow screen_name=’Tanger_Dreaming’]

Blackpool’s Core Problem

The Blackpool Five

Good and great football teams have a core set of players who hold the team structure together, it is often referred to as the spine of the team. Throughout their promotion season from the Championship Blackpool had a spine of players who pulled together to make Blackpool a fantastic attacking team and gave them great consistency in the run in which saw them come from nowhere to secure promotion.

When the Premier League season kicked off that spine still remained, however, the supporting figures were either not up to standard, inconsistent, ageing or too new to Ian Holloway’s methods to provide strength in depth. As the season progressed players integrated in to the side and some of the newer players became ‘first choice’ options. However, none of these players served to be a genuine replacement when any of the spine missed games. Did that really matter? Did losing key players have any impact on Blackpool’s results?

Spinal matters

Ian Evatt, Stephen Crainey, David Vaughan, Charlie Adam and DJ Campbell could be defined as being the spine of the Blackpool side. When these five players lined up for Blackpool the whole team appeared to play with much more verve, vigor and assurance. However, what was the record for the games when these players lined up against those matches when they didn’t?

With all the spine present Blackpool gained 27 of their 39 points in 21 games at a rate of 1.29 points per game which should they have stayed together in the side and completed all 38 games, Blackpool would have racked up 49 points. They won 33% of the games they lined up in.

In the other 17 games when that spine was removed either in whole or in part, Blackpool racked up 12 points at a rate of 0.71 points per game which is half a point down on the games when the spine of the team was in place. Blackpool won only 18% of these games.

Stockpiles

This is a crucial set of facts when you consider Blackpool’s fate. They clearly didn’t have either the quality of back up players or the ability or time to integrate them in to the side with restricted playing opportunities or a planned approach to squad rotation. Injuries played a large part in disrupting the spine of the team as well as suspensions. David Vaughan picked up hip injury that kept him out of three games back to back and Stephen Crainey suffered with an ankle ligament injury that kept him out for six games. Then DJ Campbell got sent off against Wolves and missed three matches whilst Charlie Adam’s persistent bookings meant he missed three matches through suspension. What is really important to note is that of that spine it is very likely that on the opening day of the new season Blackpool will only have Ian Evatt left.

What can Blackpool and other teams learn from this experience?

Should Blackpool ever get back to the Premier League then it will be because they again have a solid spine, but they will need to ensure that their spine isn’t compromised and spend time considering how that spine will be best replaced in the case of injury and suspension. Blackpool will hope to recruit potential peripheral players to serve as shadows or to recruit first team players in other positions with the calibre to flex their field position and game approach.

With the break up of the spine as Blackpool move in to the Championship then the true perspective of the task ahead of Holloway is huge, his inherited squad was never completed and developed to his satisfaction. It’s no exaggeration to say that he has to build from the ground up again. To think that this might take two years is a realistic prospect given the club’s approach to recruitment. However, should it take two years then surely prior to any eventual promotion, Ian Holloway will have plans in place to thoroughly develop his squad further to cope with the rigors of a full season in the Premier League.

[twitter-follow screen_name=’Tanger_Dreaming’]

Ten ways to stay in the Barclays Premier League – The Final Analysis

On the 1st December 2010 this blog took a look at ten aspects of Blackpool’s season up to that point that were reasons behind their success. It made the assertion that should these ten aspects be sustained over the course of the season then Blackpool would stay in the Barclays Premier League. Now the season has come to an end it’s time to pick through that list and see how many stayed the course and how many fell by the wayside.

Task list

First things first, lets list the ten aspects from the original article.

Blackpool must;

  1. Keep on attacking teams
  2. Keep faith with a 4-3-3 structure
  3. Keep meeting teams who pay no regard to Blackpool’s style of football
  4. Keep doing the defensive basics
  5. Keep passing the ball
  6. Keep the long diagonal pass as a part of their game plan
  7. Keep the points ticking over
  8. Keep supplying DJ Campbell close to goal
  9. Keep alert at all times

As you’ll notice,  there are only nine listed above. That is because two of the points from the first article were of the same nature so they’ve been condensed in to point three to avoid confusion. Perhaps, that should have been noted at the time and the post renamed ‘Nine steps to safety’. Actually, that sounds much better now.

Attacking matters

The original article picked up on the fact that Blackpool had little problem in scoring goals and at the rate they were scoring then they’d have scored 58 times by the end of the season. In fact Blackpool did keep their goals flowing and were widely lauded for their commitment to attack. Ian Holloway intended to attack the Premier League and attack he did. Blackpool ended up scoring 55 goals and they were the 8th highest scorers in the whole league and no team has scored as many goals and been relegated in the Premier League era.

Four, Three, Three

Ever since Ian Holloway has taken over the management of Blackpool football club he has advocated a 4-3-3 and he wants his teams at all levels to play the same formation. This season that formation consistently brought the best out of his players and caused all kinds of problems for many teams, especially those set up in a flat 4-4-2. From memory only two teams set up in a 4-4-2 and beat Blackpool (Fulham and Chelsea). A pre-season injury to Keith Southern meant that the 4-3-3 morphed in to a 4-2-3-1 or 4-2-1-3 and it worked well initially. It will be interesting to see how Swansea set up in the Premier League, they’ll bring a similar structure (applied differently), but will still cause trouble against any team in a standard 4-4-2.

Homework

Not many children ever appear to enjoy their homework and the panel of the Sunday Supplement on Sky Sports appear to take a similarly neglectful approach to their research of football that tends to be outside of their myopic scope. However, this was also the case for the best part of half a Premier League season as most managers who faced off against Blackpool appeared to make no concession and make clear tactical plans to cope with Blackpool. All season it appeared that only Alex McLeish made clear changes to his team structure to counter Blackpool with his 4-1-2-1-2 diamond formation.

Teams tended to favour their regular set ups against Blackpool for the most part and some suffered as a result. Blackpool’s barren run of form was partly explained by other factors, but on occasion some managers recognised that to deny time and space to Charlie Adam would stifle Blackpool and rightly so it had an effect. Another aspect that some managers finally picked up on was to press Blackpool’s back line and close down the keeper to stop them playing out from the back. This and the plan to shackle Adam seemed to be the only major concessions teams made to Blackpool all season, content to play their own game and let Blackpool play their and see who wins. This approach consistently played in to the hands of Blackpool, but as the season wore on and wins became less frequent when the concessions some teams were making combined with the errors Blackpool were making caused a lot of the poor results.

Breaking the line

It’s not a secret that Blackpool were poor defensively and the original post was made after a couple of steady defensive performances and stressed that they needed to become more and more frequent for Blackpool to stay up. In the end poor defensive shape, poor covering, poor communications, poor concentration and poor judgement cost Blackpool very dear. Blackpool conceded 78 goals at a rate of 2.05 goals per game. At the time of the original post that ratio was 1.93 and in the game since then it rose to 2.13. You can see below how around the time of the last article their goals conceded per game started to improve before picking up again at the crucial back end of the season.

Taking the goals that Blackpool conceded and averaging them out on a per game basis.

Teams defend as a unit and Holloway stressed that his defence starts with his forwards, whilst this is true, the defensive basics of clearing lines safely, generally rested with the back five and a couple of midfielders. If you look at the % of successful clearances this season you can see that on average Blackpool cleared their lines successfully 61% of the time. However, the number of critical mistakes made in games never seemed to die and hung around till the end of the season. Through a quick count up (via whoscored.com) Blackpool made a total of 14 errors leading to goals being scored (Richard Kingson was the player who made the most, 3).

Tick-tock

As stated many times on the blog this season Holloway sees short passing as the foundation for Blackpool’s game, he aspires for tiki-taka style passing and at the time of the original post Blackpool were performing excellent with balls to feet with a pass completion of 77%. However, a post earlier this year noted that their passing was dropping off as teams pressed better and Blackpool became a little direct at times especially from the back and through the evaporation of the quickly taken short freekick. At season end Blackpool’s pass completion stood at 76% and if you segment the season up in to arbitrary halves then for the first half of the season Blackpool were stood at 78% and the second half at 74%.

Die-agonal

Posts on this blog and over on Up the ‘Pool have talked about the way that Blackpool have utilised the long diagonal from back to front to stretch the play and add variety. However, as the season progressed the pass did tend to become easier to read and it’s hard to pin point a goal being scored as a result, however, that’s not to say that it ceased to become useful. Only a detailed analysis would answer questions around this.

Grinding to a halt

A simple graph will confirm that Blackpool failed in keeping the points ticking over as you can see below.

The blank space between the tangerine lines got wider as the season progressed.

Whilst it is a by-product of the team performance, it is crucial for any team to consistently pick up points throughout the season. Blackpool’s 1 win in a 16 game run hindered the steady accumulation of points and such runs breed poor habits and drain confidence and Blackpool found it hard to shrug off. As mentioned earlier about the defence, mistakes were common, team selection frustrated by injury and other things added up to test Blackpool week in week out, but they struggled to break free from the cycle till it was arguably too late given the strong end to the season that both Wolves and Wigan had.

Poached

A study of DJ Campbell’s goals in the Championship showed that he thrived on balls played between the goal line and penalty spot and the assertion was made this season that should Blackpool keep supplying the ball to him in that range then he’d keep on scoring goals all season. At the time of the original article he was on schedule to hit 8 goals for the season. In fact he made some improvements in his game, notably in his movement in dropping deep to receive the ball and his ball control did steadily improve, although he still has a tendency to misjudge his control especially if the ball bounces just in front of him. The ball tends to rise up on his first touch leaving the ball a couple of feet off the ground and fair game for any defender. However, his strength on the ball has improved as has his decision-making as to when to play a flick or hold on to the ball. DJ Campbell ended the season with 13 goals in what was an excellent season for the striker.

Capitulation

Back in December Blackpool had a developed a habit of conceding late on in the game, at that point 9 goals had been scored against them in the last 15 minutes of game which equated to 31% of the total goals conceded. As the season progressed, this never went away and this more than anything has caused Blackpool the biggest problems. By the season end Blackpool had conceded 20 goals in the last 15 minutes equating to 25%.

Slipping away late on. Again and again.

Mission: Failed

This article served to follow up something written some months ago and served merely to round that post off so that it could be established if the tasks ahead of Blackpool had been carried out successfully. Five out of the nine could be deemed as a success, whilst four failures and it is those four that proved most critical. However, the lines between staying up and going down were very fine in the end, Blackpool didn’t need to defend like warriors game after game or have the mental resilience to see out every game from a winning position. All they really needed was one more minute of concentration, one less misplaced clearance and they may well have stayed up. However, what Blackpool showed more than anything is that they were a team of extremes, great going forward, woeful in defence and should they ever get to this level again, then striking a greater balance will serve them better.

[twitter-follow screen_name=’Tanger_Dreaming’]